7 Things You Need to Know to Stay Safe (and Snag Great Deals) on Black Friday / Cyber Monday

Online Shopping - A Cyber Monday Tradition

Bet you can’t resist a good deal.

Well if you’re anything like the other 223 million Americans who made Black Friday/Cyber Monday purchases in 2014, you’re in good company. Move over Turkey Day, the end of November has two new(er) stars. And even though these two days, devoted to the fine art of hunting for insane discounts, can never really replace that special day dedicated to counting your blessings, retailers and consumers are nonetheless entranced by the newcomers.

Black Friday as a cultural phenomenon that started in the 1930’s when retailers noticed an uptick in shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. Harnessing that momentum, store owners began to slash prices, a subtle reminder for all that the biggest shopping season of the year had arrived.

Until very recently, Black Friday shopping was the true badge of a shopper’s endurance. With stores opening as early as 4 am and crowds thicker than those at Disney World in peak season, only the most dedicated shoppers could enjoy the experience. In 2014, however, the amount of in-store shoppers dropped about 11% below the numbers from 2013. It’s still a day designed more for extreme shopping than strolling through the mall, but camping out in front of Walmart on your lawn chair from 3 am on Friday morning is now only optional.

Enter Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday hasn’t been around for quite as long as its counterpart, but it’s picking up the momentum that’s been lost by Black Friday. In 2014, Cyber Monday drew in about 25% more sales than Black Friday did. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see why shopping from your iPhone is more convenient than taking the chance of getting pepper-sprayed by your fellow crazed-for-the-moment deal seekers. And since shoppers can get the same, if not better, online discounts as in-store savings, the move to Cyber Monday just makes sense.

Watch out for Cyber Criminals

Cyber criminals are just as aware of the trend as you (now) are. The holiday shopping season has always been a favorite for crooks and scammers. Lucky for them (but bad for the rest of us), the internet is continuously supplying them with new opportunities for people to part with their money. Here are some ways to protect yourself and your friends while scoring the Deal of the Century on that xBox.

1. Stick to sites with https://
Shop only on sites with a web address that starts with https://. The addition of the “s” after the https indicates that this site uses secure socket layers or SSLmeaning it has an extra level of protection. SSL is what allows super sensitive information such as credit card numbers and social security numbers to be transmitted across in the internet securely.

2. Steer clear of phishing emails
Cyber criminals just love phishing emails. Sadly, the spending frenzy created by days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday are a perfect time to capitalize on people’s excitement. So use your head. Unless you are certain an email is legit, don’t click on the links or embedded URLs. In your haste to save a bit of cash, you could wind up with a computer full of malware and viruses.

3. Use a credit card
In terms of shopping online, it’s safer to shop with a credit card than it is with a debit card. This is because shoppers can dispute charges if the seller doesn’t provide the item or if the shopper finds unauthorized charges to their card. Also, many cards have a “zero liability” plan which ensures that if a credit card number is stolen, the holder pays nothing. Debit cards don’t offer that same sort of reassurance.

4. Shop only on sites you know and trust

This is a smart rule of thumb to observe all the time, in any scenario. Period. End of story. As slick and professional as a site may seem, if you don’t know and trust it, you are taking a very real risk of handing your hard-earned money over to con artists.

5. Avoid shopping on unprotected Wi-Fi

Never give your personal details, like billing information, over an unsecured network. Public networks can be compromised by malware and the hackers who compromised them are looking for your information. If you intend to shop using your mobile phone and a public network, make sure you connect using a VPN so that hackers can intercept your communications. Alternately, wait until you can connect securely to get that deal on this season’s cutest Uggs.

6. Install an Antivirus and make sure it’s up to date

Keeping your antivirus software updated will protect you from phishing threats that come via malware, and will protect you from scam sites or sites that have been compromised by hackers in some way. Most antivirus programs also keep pop-ups at bay so you’ll never see that potentially tempting (but brimming with malware) ad for a $5 Tablet. ZoneAlarm’s powerful antivirus protection keeps you safe from viruses, spyware and trojans and has identity protection built-in to protect you from phishing, identity fraud and other cybercrimes as well.

7. Change your passwords

We all know how important it is to have unique, strong passwords. When it comes to shopping online this is essential. Lazy passwords simply invite hackers to steal your information. It’s true that creating strong, random passwords for every site you use may take a bit of time and effort on your part, but it’s much better than winding up being the victim of a hack- all because you couldn’t be bothered to think up a unique password.

Okay cyber shoppers, now get out there and have fun!

Don’t let fear of cybercrime deter you from getting some great deals this Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Just use your head at all times and shop while staying aware of these important pointers.

Hey, it sure beats doing battle with real shoppers at the mall!

Got any Black Friday shopping tips? Share them in the comments section below!

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